Posted by: Adam Roake | June 8, 2010

MIXED MESSAGES ON HOUSING

Michael Donnelly poses an interesting question following the government’s latest policy proposal, as leaked through the Telegraph, to scrap the minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare. The Telegraph states that such densities result, as a matter of course, in “cluttering, ill-thought-out ‘affordable’ high rises” – we don’t want poor people cluttering up our streets. And as Michael goes on to point out, how does allowing lower densities protect the Green Belt, allegedly something this government is determined to do.

The lower densities suit housebuilders well enough – now they can return to building shabby “executive homes”, complete with half-timbering and an endless number of tiny bedrooms, dining rooms and other useless spaces. What their “Open Source Planning” Green Paper actually says about Housing Targets should get Town Halls very worried.  There will be a return to “… presumption in favour of sustainable development” (page 11) and, whilst regional targets have been abolished, each Local Authorities will now be required to assess housing need in their own area. No mention is made of how they might resource this assessment, bearing in mind they’ve never had to do it before and they are under pressure to reduce costs. On page 9, the Green Paper warns,

“… if a local planning authority does not get its local plan finalised in reasonable time, it will be deemed to have an entirely permissive planning approach, so all planning applications will be accepted automatically if they conform with national planning guidance.”

Furthermore,

 “As part of the process of arriving at robust, locally determined projections of housing need, local authorities have also identified land suitable for accommodating future housing…. We will issue best practice guidance but councils will see the need for these calculations to be robust if they are to avoid legal challenge on the grounds that the local plan has not followed proper process in determining what would and would not constitute sustainable development”.

I predict that a number of Local Authorities will find that their enthusiasm to reject housing targets set by regional strategies returns to haunt them when their Local Plans are rejected and housebuilders obtain unacceptable planning permissions by default. My own authority, Canterbury City Council, seem well on the way to this sort of chaos and don’t seem to grasp that housing need is something their constituents experience, not something they can control. If they don’t get to grips with this, houses will be built where local people don’t want them and councillors, not unelected RDAs, will be entirely to blame. Is it cynical of me to suggest that perhaps the housebuilder lobby has actually had more of an influence than we have been led to believe?

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Responses

  1. sorry, you are totally of target on at least one aspect of your comments. The regions have never funded local housing needs assessments to my knowledge. For one they don’t have the resources and two, they don’t have the time. Like virtually every aspect of the totally artificial /superficial regional planning we have suffered over the years, the vast majority of the data it contains is just regurgitated government and local polices repackaged to give it the veneer of regional spatial planning. Most regional planning offices and officers for that matter remain clueless when it comes to the actual situation on the ground. if they are to be retained in any form let them fulfill the role of coordinating the data into a high level document that draws in the required funding from all levels of higher government and the private sector and infrastructure providers instead of the inept micro-management that we have experienced to date.

  2. Roger,

    Thanks for the comment. Regional authorities did publish housing targets, based on some data; now local authorities will have to do that work although without additional resources and with little experience to draw on. Pickles has decreed that RSS targets can now be ignored in planning decisions, if LPAs wish to; indeed SEEDA for one has already given up the ghost as far as I can tell.

    But at some point LPAs will need to produce their own targets for housing. Do you think they they have the skills and resources to do this in a “robust” way, which will not be susceptible to legal challenge by the housebuilder lobby?


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